Chose a Creative Commons License for Your Study Documentation and Supporting Documents

Copyright and Open Science are two poles in science that seem to be diametrically opposed to each other. But only seemingly: because we show an uncomplicated way to protect one’s own intellectual property from misuse on the one hand, and still make one’s own research work freely usable for others.

Urheberrecht und Open Science sind zwei Pole in der Wissenschaft, die sich scheinbar diametral gegenüberstehen. Aber nur scheinbar: Denn wir zeigen einen unkomplizierten Weg, wie man einerseits das eigene geistige Eigentum vor Missbrauch schützen und andererseits die eigene Forschungsarbeit für andere frei nutzbar machen kann.

DOI: 10.34879/gesisblog.2021.47

Executive Summary:

  • Your study documentation automatically receives copyright protections when you publish it.
  • Fair dealing and fair use provide limited protections from copyright infringement, but these vary from country to country and can exclude potential user use, such as non-profits or commercial polling companies.
  • Instead, add a Creative Commons license to your supporting documents.
  • Creative Commons license encourage reuse and clearly denote how the public can legally use, cite, reuse or reproduce your writing, regardless of where they live.
  • Adding a Creative Commons license is easy: add your license image to your documentation.

Background: facilitating reuse and replication of your work

Study documentation is key to facilitating secondary use of your data. Users rely on them to translate the numbers into meaningful information. Notes on how data were coded, explanations for composite measures or scales were constructed are key, as are notes on why certain question wording and response options were used. 

The Problem: All Rights Reserved is the default copyright

Unless otherwise indicated by the authors, any published works receive an All Rights Reserved copyright as their legal default.  ‘All Rights Reserved’ means anyone who wants to reproduce or adapt a work (including translation into another language) must obtain permission from the creator beforehand.

Teaching, criticism, commentary and research activities must sometimes use copyrighted works, and countries recognize these activities as being in the public interest. Carve outs of legal protection for specific activities exempted from copyright violation are known as fair dealing or fair use. However, such fair dealing and fair use are only legal defense after someone is sued by a copyright holder, and what is considered fair dealing and fair use vary from country to country. Finally, fair use and fair dealing provide creators with no path to make reuse easier or add some limited restrictions.

The Solution: Creative Commons licenses and Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons licenses are customizable for your needs and free to use. Creative Commons do not affect a creator’s moral rights. Internationally recognized moral rights include:

  • the right of attribution, names of authors must always appear with the work, and
  • the right of integrity protects your reputation, such distorting it to the point where its meaning is altered or damaged.

Their permissions are customizable, legally allowing your study documents to be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, translated and/or built upon.

Recommended licenses:


Attribution – requires the author’s name must appear
Least restrictive license. All Creative Commons license include a BY requirement, requiring people who use the work to credit the original creator.1 If you only require attribution, people can distribute, remix, adapt (including translation), and/or build on your work.


Attribution-Share Alike – requires re-users to add the Share Alike restriction to their works
The BY license requires author attribution and SA requires that any new works based on your CC BY SA work must be licensed under the identical SA terms you applied to yours.

Other options:


Adding NC prohibits those who use your works from using it commercially. If you want your survey documentation to be replicated by commercial polling companies, do not add this license restriction.


This requires author attribution, restricts reuse for non-commercial purposes, and requires any new creations that draw upon your work to be licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA license.

Not recommended:


No Derivatives – your work cannot be updated, translated, transformed, remixed or adapted
ND restrictions are best applied to publications not meant to be modified or altered, such as official government documents.


Most restrictive license  
This authorizes others to download your works and share them with attribution, but they can’t alter or adapt them in any way and commercial use is prohibited.

Further information


  1. Use this license for maximal dissemination and reuse of your materials.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.